A Legend Of Degei The Snake God
Greatest of all Fijian gods was Degei, the Snake god. In the beginning he lived alone, without friends or companions, and the
only living creature he knew was Turukawa the hawk. Although the hawk could not speak he was the constant companion of the god.
One day Degei could not find his friend and looked everywhere for him. Days went by and at last one morning he spied the hawk sitting in some long grass. Gladly, he welcomed the bird but, to his consternation, she ignored Degei and commenced building a nest. Disappointed, he retired to his house and the next day went back to the nest and found two eggs. He then realized the hawk had found a mate and that he had lost her affection. So scooping up the eggs he took them into his own house and kept them warm with his own body. After several weeks of nurturing the eggs and wondering what would happen two shells broke and there were two tiny human bodies.
Degei built them a shelter in a vesi tree and fed them on scraps of food. They grew quickly, but there was nobody to teach them except Degei. He did not understand children but when they were hungry he fed them and to save himself work he planted banana trees and root crops close to them. He also talked to them and told them about the secrets of nature. Eventually the children were fully grown and all this time had been unaware of each other’s presence as Degei had placed them on opposite sides of the tree.
One day the man left his shelter and as soon as he saw the maiden held out his arms to her and told her Degei had made them for each other and that their children would populate the earth. So Degei showed them how to cook the root vegetables in an earth oven.
Some time later they were blessed with a little baby and Degei also was very happy as he knew that because of loneliness men and women had come into the world and would worship him as their god.
According to legend Degei also created Viti Levu and all the small islands. [TOP]
Dakuwaqa The Shark God
One of the best known gods in Fijian legends is the fierce sea-monster Dakuwaqa. He was the guardian of the reef entrance of the islands, fearless, headstrong and jealous. He frequently changed himself into the form of a shark and traveled around the islands fighting all the other reef guardians.
One day he set out for the Lomaiviti group and after emerging victorious from this area he decided to set out for Suva. The guardian of the reef here challenged Dakuwaqa and a great struggle took place. There was such a disturbance that great waves went rolling into the mouth of the Rewa River causing valleys to be flooded for many miles inland.
Dakuwaqa once more emerged as victor and proceeded on his way. Near the island of Beqa his old friend Masilaca, another shark god, told him of the great strength of the gods guarding Kadavu island and slyly asked Dakuwaqa whether he would be afraid to meet them. Like a shot Dakuwaqa sped off towards Kadavu and, on nearing the reef, found a giant octopus guarding the passage. The octopus had four of its tentacles securely gripping the coral and the other four were held aloft. Rushing furiously in, Dakuwaqa soon found that he was being almost squeezed to death as the octopus had coiled its tentacles around him. Realizing his danger Dakuwaqa begged for mercy and told the octopus that if his life was spared he would never harm any people from Kadavu wherever they may be in any part of Fiji waters.
So the octopus released him and Dakuwaqa kept his promise, and the people of Kadavu have no fear of sharks when out fishing or swimming.
Even today when local fishermen go out for a night’s fishing they reverently pour a bowl of yaqona into the sea for Dakuwaqa.
The high chiefs of Cakaudrove are considered the direct descendants of Dakuwaqa and their totem shark will appear to the reigning chief on occasions when momentous news is about to the announced.[TOP]
Fire Walking On The Island Of Beqa
In accordance with the legendary tradition of the Sawau tribe of the island of Beqa, the firewalking ceremony is still performed on special occasions.
The firewalking skill is possessed by the Sawau tribesmen living in the four villages on the windward, or Southern side of the island of Beqa. In special cases, however, members of the other tribes who have been adopted by the Sawau tribe, have successfully performed the ceremony. The main village is known as Dakuibeqa where the chief of the tribe known as Tui Sawau lives.
When the ceremony is to be performed several representatives are chosen from each village, the total number being usually from the immediate family of the Bete. For two weeks before the event, the participants segregate themselves from all females and have no contact with them whatsoever, also they must not eat any coconut. Failure to observe the tabu renders the culprit liable to severe burns during the ceremony.
A large circular pit is dug some twelve to fifteen feet in diameter, three to four feet in depth. This pit is lined with large river stones twelve to fifteen inches in diameter and a huge log fire is built over them some six to eight hours before the ceremony.
W>hen the time arrives, the men of the village in gay regalia are led by the Bete to prepare the arena for the firewalkers. Armed with long green poles some of which have loops or strong green vines (walai) lashed to their ends, the young men clear the burning logs from the stones. As they heave on the vines, they chant in unison, “O-vulo-vulo”!
A long tree-fern called waqa-bala-bala said to contain the Spirit God is then laid across the pit at the direction of the Bete. A large vine some 1.5 inches in diameter is then dragged across the stones leveling them and preparing them for the firewalkers.
When the stones are finally in position, the Bete jumps on to them and takes a few trial steps to test their firmness and when satisfied, calls for bundles of leaves (drau-ni-ba) and bundles of long swamp grass (sila); these are placed around the edge of the pit.
When all is ready, the position of the waqa-bala-bala is adjusted at the command of the Bete, and the base pointed in the direction from which the firewalkers will approach.
The village men who have prepared the pit now surround the circle leaving only a gap for the entry of the firewalkers.
The Bete looks around and when satisfied that the time has arrived gives a great shout of “Vuto-O” which is the signal for the firewalkers to burst from their place of concealment and in a single file at a brisk trot, approach the pit.
The waqa-bala-bala is quickly removed and the firewalkers enter the pit and walk briskly in single file on the white hot stones round the circumference of the pit. They appear to suffer no harm from the heat. As the audience is hushed in silence, a sudden shout goes up, the bundles of grass and leaves are thrown on the stones and the group huddles in the center of the pit chanting a song associated with the occasion.
Around the ankle of each is a band of tinder-dry tree fern leaves called drau-ni-bala-bala and it is significant although a handkerchief tossed on to the stones will burst into flames, this band of fern does not ignite. These bands are carefully taken off and buried in the oven together with four special baskets of roots called vasili which are said to take the place in the oven of the performers.
The whole pit is then covered with earth, and left for a period of four days. After four days, the oven or lovo is opened by the firewalkers and the baked roots are taken out and are ground and mixed with water. Dalo (taro) roots are then cooked in the liquid and eaten by the firewalkers.
This completes the firewalking ceremony. [TOP]
Legend Of The Firewalkers Of Fiji
Many years ago on the island of Beqa (pronounced Mbengga), a tribe called Sawau lived in a mountain village called Navakeisese. In this village there lived a famous storyteller known as Dredre, who regularly entertained the members of the tribe with his stories. It was customary for the people of the village to bring gifts to Dredre in appreciation of his entertainment.
On one occasion when asked what gifts he would like, he requested each person of the audience to bring him the first things they would find while hunting the next day.
One of the warriors of Beqa called Tui-na-Iviqalita, went fishing for eels (rewai) in a mountain stream. The first thing he caught felt like an eel. When he pulled it out of the mud, it assumed the shape of a Spirit God.
Tui was extremely pleased and set off to present his catch to Dredre, the storyteller. The Spirit God, however, pleaded for his life and offered all manner of gifts in exchange. These Tui refused until finally, the Spirit God offered to give him power over fire and this offer aroused his curiosity.
To prove his gift, a pit was dug and lined with stones, and a great fire was lit on the stones. When the stones were white with heat, the Spirit God leapt down on the stones and called Tui to jump in with him. Finally, he plucked up enough courage and was surprised that he did not feel any effect from the heat. The Spirit God then told him that he could be buried for four days in the oven without suffering any injury. However, Tui was afraid to do so, saying that he was quite satisfied to walk on the stones. To this day members of the Sawau tribes are able to walk on white hot stones and direct descendants of Tui-na-Iviqalita still act as Bete, or high priest, of the firewalkers of Fiji.[TOP]
The Sacred Turtles Of Kadavu
On the island of Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu) one of the larger islands of the Fiji Group and some fifty miles by water from the capital city of Suva, is the Fijian village of Namuana. Namuana nestles at the foot of a beautiful bay adjacent to the Government Station in Vunisea Harbor. Here the island of Kadavu narrows down to a very isthmus and by climbing the hill behind Namuana village one can stand on the saddle and look out to the sea to the south and to the north. Legend says that in the days gone by the warriors of Kadavu slid their canoes on rollers up over the narrow neck of land to save the long journey around the east and west of Kadavu island.
The women of Namuana village still preserve a very strange ritual, that of calling turtles from the sea. If you visit Namuana village to see the turtle calling, your schooner anchors in a beautiful bay right under the cliffs of a rocky headland. You land on the beach and then either sit on the rocks under the bluffs on the beach or climb a rocky tract to a point some 150 or 200 feet up the rock face. Here you have a splendid view and find assembled all the maidens of the village of Namuana singing a strange chant. As they chant, if you look very carefully down into the water of the bay, you will see giant turtles rise one by one to lie on the surface listening to the music.
This is not a fairy tale and actually does take place and the water in this area is forbidden for the fishing of turtles.
Another interesting sideline to this performance is that if any member of the nearby village of Nabukelevu is present, then the turtles will not rise to the surface of the bay and turtle calling will have to be abandoned.
As is usually the case with such strange ceremonies and customs in Fiji, the turtle calling is based on an ancient legend still passed on from father to son among the Fijian people of Kadavu.
Many, many years ago in the beautiful village of Namuana on the island of Kadavu, lived a very lovely princess called Tinaicoboga who was the wife of the chief of Namuana village. Tinaicoboga had a charming daughter called Raudalice and the two women often went fishing on the reefs around their home.
In one particular occasion, Tinaicobaga and Raudalice went further afield than usual and waded out onto the submerged reefs which are just out from the rocky headline to the east of the bay on which Namuana village is situated.
They became so engrossed with their fishing that they did not notice the stealthy approach of a great war canoe filled with fishermen from the nearby village of Nabukelevu. This village is situated in the shadow of Mount Washington, the highest mountain on Kadavu island. Today, Mount Washington is well known to mariners because there is a splendid lighthouse there warning them of the dangers of the rocky coastline.
Suddenly the fishermen leapt from their canoe and seized the two women, bound their hands and feet with vine and tossed them into the bottom of the canoe and set off in great haste for home. Although they pleaded for their lives, the cruel warriors from Nabukelevu were deaf to their pleading and would not listen to their entreaties.
The Gods of the sea, however, were kind and soon a great storm arose and the canoe was tossed about by huge waves which almost swamped it. As the canoe was foundering in the sea the fishermen were astounded to notice that the two women lying in the water in the hold of the canoe had suddenly changed into turtles and to save their own lives, the men seized them and threw them into the sea.
As they slipped over the side of the canoe the weather changed and there were no more waves.
The Nabukelevu fishermen continued their journey back to their home village and the two women from Namuana who had been changed to turtles lived on in the water of the bay. It is their descendants today who rise when the maidens of their own village sing songs to them from the cliffs.
The translation of the strange song which is chanted on such occasions is as follows:
“The women of Namuana are all dressed in mourning
Each carries a sacred club each tattooed in a strange pattern
Do rise to the surface Raudalice so we may look at you
Do rise to the surface Tinaicoboga so we may also look at you.”
You may doubt the truth of the legend, but you cannot doubt the fact that the chanting of this strange song does in fact lure the giant turtles to the surface of the blue waters of the bay near Namuana village on the island of Kadavu.
The strange power of calling these turtles is possessed only by the people of Namuana village and it is true that should a member of their traditional enemy tribe from the village of Nabukelevu further down the coast be present, then no turtles will rise. [TOP]
The Tagimoucia Flower
In the high mountains of Taveuni, known as Fiji’s Garden Island, there is a beautiful lake of considerable size. A flowering plant called Tagimoucia is found only on the shores of this lake and any attempt to transplant the vine has failed. The Tagimoucia is one of Fiji’s most beautiful wild flowers, the bunches of red flowers have a small white center. The legend of the Tagimoucia flower goes something like this.
In a hill above the shore lived a woman and her little daughter. One day the little girl was playing when she should have been working. Her mother kept asking her to get on with her work but she ignored her mother and kept on playing. Annoyed, the mother seized a bundle of sasas (mid-ribs of the coconut leaf) which she used as a broom, and spanked her daughter. “Go on, get out, you naughty girl. Go out and I don’t want to see your face again.”
The little girl was so upset that she sobbed and ran away. She kept on running not realizing where she was going. Her tears blinded her and as she ran along she blundered into a large climbing plant that hung from a tree. It was a thick green vine with large green leaves but there were no flowers on it. The child became entangled with the vine and could not get free so she stayed there, crying bitterly.
As the tears rolled down her cheeks they changed from salt tears to tears of blood which fell on the stem of the vine and turned into lovely flowers.
At last the little girl stopped crying and managed to free herself from the vine and went back home. She was delighted to find out that her mother had forgotten her anger and so they lived happily together again. [TOP]
The Tame Fish Of Fiji
On the island of Nananu-i-ra, just off the North-east corner of Viti Levu, can be seen one of the strangest sights in the Pacific. Here Paul Miller who lives on the island keeps a school of tame sand cod. These fish are friendly and come to be fed every day by Paul.
Ben Cropp, one of Australia’s best known underwater cameramen says the fish will do anything. It is quite safe to get in and swim with them. The fish, weighing up to 45lbs will take food from your fingers and will allow themselves to be petted and stroked. Ben and his wife Van have filmed many exciting and amazing sequences with these fish and they have particularly asked to try to have the waters round the island declared a fish sanctuary. [TOP]
Legend Of Old Fiji
There is a legend “NANANU-I-RA” which goes something like this:- “Once upon a time there lived in the village of Nanukuloa (village of black sands) on Viti Levu (Queen of the sands). Adi fell in love with a handsome young chief from Bua, about twenty miles across the water. Bua was famous for its forests of beautiful sandalwood with a fragrant perfumed timber, and the people of Bua were great canoe sailors.
Adi’s lover, being a skilled sailor, sailed his fast canoe across the intervening sea to visit her, bearing many gifts carved from the exotic sandalwood of Bua.
Unfortunately, however, the tribes of Bua and the tribes on Viti Levu were not friendly, and the suit of the young chieftain was rejected by Adi’s father and the chief of Nanukuloa.
Undaunted, however, the two lovers were determined to meet secretly and this is what they did. Off the coast near Adi’s village is the island of Nananu-i-Ra, meaning “Dreamland in the West” and it was here the lovers arranged to meet. [TOP]
The Red Prawns Of Vatulele
Long ago on the island of Vatulele there lived a very beautiful chief’s daughter called “Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula” or Maiden-of-the-Fair-Wind. So beautiful was she that every eligible chief who visited Vatulele sought to take her as his bride. Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula however, was hard to please and on every occasion she scornfully refused to accept their approaches.
Not far away on the mainland of Viti Levu lived a very handsome and dashing chief’s son who was heir to the throne of mainland tribes. He had heard of the beautiful daughter of the chief of Vatulele and decided that she was worthy to be his wife. Finally, after much preparation, our bold young chief set off, laden with gifts, to seek the favors of Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula. He was well received by the chiefs of Vatulele, and confidently, he produced the special gift which he had personally carried from his mainland.
This gift consisted of the greatest delicacy known to Fiji Islands, a bundle of giant prawns from the coastal streams of Viti Levu, cooked to a tasty turn in coconut milk. Such a delicacy could be expected to melt the heart of any Fijian maiden – but not so on this occasion.
Her face clouded in anger and with flashing eyes she commanded ladies in waiting to seize him and take him to the highest cliff on the island above the “Caves of the Eagles” (known in Fiji as Ganilau) and cast him out into the sea. As he tumbled down the cliff to the sea his gift of bright red prawns fell from his hands into a rocky pool at the base of the cliff, and the leaves in which they were wrapped fell among the rocks around the pool. Our bold young chief survived the fall and returned sadly home to end his days pining for his lost love. Everyday he would go down to the sea and look towards the south where on a clear day, he could just make out on the horizon a dark line which was Vatulele.
Legends tells us that on one occasion he even began to build a bridge of stone to span the sea between Vatulele and Viti Levu and the remains of this bridge can still be seen jutting out to sea near the village of Votualailai.
The end of the story is as interesting as the beginning for where the red prawns fell into the rocky pool they came to life and to this day the pools under the cliffs on Vatulele are filled with bright scarlet prawns and in the crevices of the rocks grow the leaves in which they were wrapped. To the Fijians of Vatulele these bright scarlet prawns known as “URA-BUTA” or “cooked Prawns” are sacred and may not be harmed in any way. They firmly believe that any who dare defy the TABU will surely be shipwrecked.[TOP]